Try This One for Size (1989) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

try-this-one-for-size-movie-poster-1989-1020542015This amusing comedy-thriller was the first of a quartet of films starring Michael Brandon derived from the work of euro noir legend, James Hadley Chase. Set in the double-dealing world of smugglers and dodgy art dealers, this one brought Paradise City detective Tom Lepski to the fore and then sent him packing off to Europe with his wife.

The following is offered for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme over at Todd Mason’s Sweet Freedom blog; Katie’s Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey (for links, click here); and Bev’s Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge.

“It is never easy to earn six million dollars”

René Brabazon Raymond (who published most of his nearly 100 books either as ‘James Hadley Chase’ or ‘Raymond Marshall’) was probably embraced by the lovers of Noir for his general disdain for traditional heroes and a tendency to side with his nasty villains instead. This novel (originally published in 1980) however was one of his milder books, really a bit of a comedy, in which Lepski and his wife Carroll get involved with art smugglers without ever knowing it. An icon said to have been treasured by Catherine the Great is stolen while on loan to the US. Given the political ramifications, getting the small statue of the country is a problem but the thieves come up with a complicated plan to secrete it in the luggage being used by the Lepskis as they leave Paradise City (a fictional place near Miami) on their European holidays (Carroll coincidentally has just come in to a small inheritance). It is when they get to Paris that the double and triple crosses among the criminals start to get potentially deadly … and the clichés start to fly thick and fast:

“Her movement brought the man lying by her side awake with the awareness of a jungle cat”

Chase_Try-This-One_corgiLepski loves being a cop, meaning he likes to pack a gun and be the centre of attention and be a minor celebrity in Paradise City. It’s his wife who thinks they should absorb a little culture and so he grudgingly gets dragged through Europe in the company of Pierre and Claudette, who they meet at the airport. In fact the couple are minders sent by the crooks to keep an eye on the statue before it can be removed and passed on to the buyer in Switzerland. Chase seems to have enjoyed presenting characters as double acts – along with the eternally bickering Tom and Carroll  there are the crooked art dealers Claude and Louis, the thief Lu and his airhead girlfriend Maggie, the millionaire Radnitz and his assassin-on-retainer Sergar and so on. Unfortunately all the characters are paper-thin and there is very little momentum to the narrative either, which is a shame as this is usually the one thing that Chase was generally reputed to be good at. As we don’t care about any of the characters, and there is little about the plot that is not predictable, we are left with the the dialogue, which unfortunately is often laughable. Chase often displayed a rather imprecise grasp of American idioms and this is exhibited over and over again here – for instance, here is how a Miami cop, according to Chase, would explain that his wife has gone to the bathroom:

“My wife is just off to the loo”

That might work if you were a stockbroker from Berkshire, but … anyway, this was just one of a long and tangled cycle of novels based in and around Paradise City in which Lepski and evil businessman Radnitz regularly appear – by Chase’s standards it’s all very tame and under-powered and can’t be counted among the author’s better novels. The movie version on the other had is much more fun …


The book was adapted in 1989 as the first in a series of four movies starring Michael Brandon as insurance investigator Tom Lepski, who then went on to appear in Want to Stay Alive (Le Denier du colt, 1990), directed by Claude Bernard-Aubert; Have a Nice Night (Passez une bonne nuit, 1990) directed by Jeannot Szwarc; and Believed Violent (aka Présumé dangereux, 1990) directed by Georges Lautner, guest-starring Robert Mitchum. All were adapted by producer Sergio Gobbi and Alec Medieff (with contributions from others) from Chase’s books and filmed in English though filmed and set in France. Intended for exhibition at cinemas and cable (there is a fair amount of violence, nudity and swearing), these tend to feel like adult feature-length TV movies with decent if unspectacular production values and a very capable cast. The somewhat televisual vibe is emphasised by the presence of various recurring characters: there is Jenny, Lepski’s dog-loving secretary (played twice by Anne-Marie Kenny, though in this first film the role was played by Françoise Christophe); Inspector Ottavioni (the great Guy Marchand); and Mario Adorf, who appears in the first the last of the series as the very rich and very bent businessman, Radnitz, one of Chase’s favourite and nastiest regular characters.


The tone, as befits the locations in Nice is essentially light and sunny and this is, in practically every way, an improvements on the book. Guy Hamilton directs with his usual polish, opening with an elaborate one-take sequence-shot across the harbour and up the side of a hotel that recalls the opening of Welles Touch of Evil and Goldfinger (which Hamilton directed). Indeed that Bond movie is recalled heavily in the second part of the film in which our hero puts a bug in the villain’s car and then tracks him all over Switzerland, as Connery did in his Aston Martin back in ’64. Here instead it’s amiable Brandon chasing bad guy thief David Carradine, who, in a nice variant on the book’s plot, knows he is being followed by the detective and so has placed the priceless figurine in the other man’s car! The adaptation is surprisingly respectful to the source, keeping most of the characters and plot (including the elaborate museum heist). It does eliminate the prologue in Florida and Lepski’s wife, replaced by a beautiful French girlfriend (Arielle Dombasle) who he is constantly standing up from the pressures of work. Peter Bowles plays the head of the Soviet delegation looking after the artwork and seems to be having a very jolly time (albeit in his own movie, most of time reacting to things we don’t get to hear). It is the late David Carradine to steals the limelight though as the alleged master of disguise (though his various guises all look like Carradine to me) who clearly loves his work and who gets a great exit line on a freeze frame at the close. Most of the fun is in the second half of the movie, which travels from the sunny Riviera to chillier Switzerland in an extended chase as the statuette chases hands time and again. Worth seeing, if you can …


The “Paradise City” cycle

  • The Soft Centre (1964)
  • The Way The Cookie Crumbles (1965)
  • Well Now My Pretty (1967)
  • An Ear To The Ground (1968)
  • Believed Violent (1968)
  • There’s a Hippy on the Highway (1970)
  • Want to Stay Alive? (1971)
  • You’re Dead Without Money (1972)
  • Have A Change of Scene (1973)
  • So What Happens To Me? (1974)
  • Consider Yourself dead (1978)
  • You Must Be Kidding (1979)
  • Try This One for Size (1980)
  • Hand Me a Fig Leaf (1981)
  • Have A Nice Night (1982)
  • Not My Thing (1983)
  • Hit Them Where It Hurts (1984)

DVD Availability: Though released on VHS a long time ago, this film (and the others in the series) is not, to my knowledge, available anywhere on DVD – which is a bit of a shame as they are above-average entertainments, well worth a couple of hours of your time.

Try this One for Size (1989)
Director: Guy Hamilton
Producer: Sergio Gobbi
Screenplay: Sergio Gobbi, Alec Medieff, Guy Hamilton
Cinematography: Jean-Yves Le Mener
Art Direction: Frédéric Duru
Music: Claude Bolling
Cast: Michael Brandon, David Carradine, Arielle Dombasle, Peter Bowles, Guy Marchand, Mario Adorf, Françoise Christophe, Harold Innocent, Valérie Steffen, Stéphane Bonnet

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo in the ‘size in the title’ category:


***** (2.5 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in 2014 Book to Movie Challenge, 2014 Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo, Florida, France, James Hadley Chase, Noir, Switzerland. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Try This One for Size (1989) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Sergio – Well, if you can’t have dialogue, or well-drawn characters, or a strong plot…. Seriously, though, this does sound as though the film was much better than the novel. Perhaps it’s because I’m such a bibliophile, but I rarely find that to be the case. Thanks as ever for your thoughtful and well-written review.

    • It probably helps when you are not dealing with a literary heavyweight Margot, let’s face it! The book is strictly routine and the movie is an efficient thriller with nice locations and a decent cast – wins hands down 🙂

  2. TracyK says:

    Sounds good, I enjoyed your overview. and maybe someday I will be able to watch it. I can definitely put the book on a list. I had no idea James Hadley Chase had written so many books.

  3. Colin says:

    Well the books sounds like one I can live without. The film comes across as fun though from your write up – I can’t recall seeing any of those in the series mind.

    • I remember them coming out in cinemas in Italy at the time and I have always liked Brandon (who is here playing a transplanted US cop as he did in DEMPSEY AND MAKEPIECE but who i remember more fondly from Argento’s FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET). They are all very entertaining if modest thrillers.

  4. This is a whole world of which I was unaware – I saw a lot of films around 1989, and a lot of foreign films, but these passed me by completely. I enjoyed your review very much, without thinking I would rush to catch up.

    • Thanks Moira – well, we are talking about modest euro thrillers, nothing earth shattering, and I have no idea how wide the distribution was off the Continent frankly. Worth a look, if you can find them – you’d think the one with Robert Mitchum would be easier to find at least!

  5. Santosh Iyer says:

    When I was a teenager, there was a phase when I devoured James Hadley Chase books, but the phase passed and I gave up.
    I have not seen the film, but I have seen two other films of the director The Mirror Cracked and Evil Under The Sun.

  6. Sergio, apropos of what Santosh said, most readers of my generation in India “devoured” Chase and I, myself, read nearly all of them, sometimes two paperbacks in a day. That was such a long time ago. However, I don’t remember watching a film version of any of his novels though I wouldn’t know even if I did. I’d enjoy watching the noir films based on his paperbacks including this particular one.

    • Thanks Prashant, great to know he was also popular in India. This movie is a modest little thriller and I wouldn’t want to make too great a claim for it – in fact, I lent my DVD to a friend and he got so bored he turned it off half way! I think it was fun but clearly not everyone would agree …

  7. Bev Hankins says:

    From your review, it sounds like I’d enjoy the film much more than the book (there’s a rare thing…). I’ll have to see if I can find it and fit it into the schedule…I have way too many books to read before the year is over!

    • Thanks Bev. The book is really not worth your trouble frankly 0 and I should add that I lent my DVD to a friend and he couldn’t watch it all the way through, so maybe it’s just me that likes it!

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